01/29/2014 12:51PM

Tampa Bay Downs bonus series starts with Sam F. Davis

Tom Keyser
Our Double Play, winning a Churchill Downs allowance in May, might run in the Super Stakes at Tampa on Feb. 22.

OLDSMAR, Fla. – In the new era of the Kentucky Derby points system, Tampa Bay Downs – like all other American tracks – is beholden to the whims of Churchill Downs officials who assign points to Derby preps.

The first Derby prep of the Tampa season comes up Saturday, and these are the points assigned to the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes: zero.

Last year, the first year for the points system, the Davis was worth 10 points to the winner, Falling Sky, who wound up 19th in the Kentucky Derby at 39-1.

Perhaps a reasonable case can be made as to why the Davis should or should not be worth Derby points, although a cynic might say the corporate feud involving Tampa and Churchill-owned Calder over simulcast signals last summer might have had something to do with the change.

[Sam F. Davis Stakes: Get PPs, watch Saturday's card live]

Tampa general manager Peter Berube said “obviously we’re disappointed” with the change, while Churchill spokesman Darren Rogers said: “We’re faced with some tough decisions when it comes to scheduling the series, and the race didn’t fit into our plans.”

In any event, the reality of the current situation is such that Tampa has adjusted accordingly. As added incentive beyond a $250,000 purse, the track has initiated a bonus series that ties the Davis to its signature race, the March 8 Tampa Bay Derby, which is worth 50 Kentucky Derby points to the winner. If a horse wins both Tampa races and goes on to win the Kentucky Derby, that horse will earn a $1 million bonus for its owner.

“It wasn’t too long after we learned the Davis wasn’t getting any Derby points that we tried to do something to remedy it,” said Allison De Luca, who not only is in her eighth year as Tampa racing secretary but also has worked nearly 25 years as a Churchill racing official. “We were hoping the bonus incentive would be enough to make the race an attractive option for horsemen with Derby hopefuls.”

The field drawn Wednesday for the Sam Davis got no major Derby prospects – although, with more than three months until the 140th Derby at Churchill, most everyone knows that is subject to change. For what it’s worth, at least one starter from the Davis has run back in the Derby in nine of the last 10 years (2010 the lone exception), with none winning.

In addition to the horsemen’s bonus, Tampa also will hold a drawing for fans immediately after the Davis, with the selected entry eligible to win $100,000 if the winning horse proceeds to complete a sweep.

Our Double Play back at work

Our Double Play had his first work since running sixth in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita, breezing an easy half-mile in 50 seconds here last Saturday.

Phil Bauer, the former Ken McPeek assistant who trains Our Double Play for Rigney Racing, said he is looking to run Our Double Play next in the $100,000 Super Stakes, a seven-furlong race here Feb. 22.

Our Double Play, a 4-year-old colt by Grand Slam, earned a 103 Beyer Speed Figure in an Oct. 31 allowance triumph at Churchill Downs before finishing seventh after setting the pace in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap and then sixth after forcing a wicked pace in the Dec. 26 Malibu.

“We asked a lot of him at the end of the year and just kind of took it easy with him for a few weeks,” Bauer said.

The Oct. 31 score by Our Double Play is one Bauer and his wife, Ashley, will never forget: they watched on television in the hospital delivery room before Ashley gave birth to their son, Wyatt, their first child.

“It was fun to watch Ashley’s heart monitor rise as the horse ran that huge race,” Bauer said.

Lebron starts fast

Jockey Victor Lebron got away to an auspicious start to the Tampa meet by riding two winners from just three mounts here Sunday in his first day upon a belated arrival.

Lebron had been riding at Turfway Park since early December and had considered returning to Oaklawn Park, where he won 22 races last winter. He then said he was staying home in northern Kentucky with his wife and four children at Turfway before changing his mind.

“I’m staying through the end of the meet [May 4],” he said.

Broncos fan

With Super Bowl XLVIII at hand, Brian Ange has been showing his colors this week by wearing an old-school Denver Broncos ballcap to work in the morning.

“I’ve loved them since the days of Karl Mecklenburg, Steve Atwater, and Bill Romanowski,” said Ange, a longtime traveling assistant for Eoin Harty. “I’m just hoping for a good, close game Sunday.”

◗ Back-to-back allowances conclude a nine-race program here Friday, when first post is the usual 12:25 p.m. Eastern. Both races are worth $26,000, with race 8 for older males going seven furlongs and race 9 for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles on the turf.